June 15, 2021
United Network for Organ Sharing honors Jon Lee for promoting living kidney donation
Dallas, TX – The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the mission-driven nonprofit serving as the nation’s transplant system, has announced the recipient of the 2021 National Donor Memorial Award for Excellence: Jon Lee of McKinney, who donated one of his kidneys as part of a paired organ exchange at Medical City Dallas.
UNOS established the National Donor Memorial Award for Excellence in 2010 to annually recognize exceptional advocates for organ and tissue donation.
“Becoming a living donor is one of the most profound and transformative decisions someone can make,” said UNOS President David Mulligan, MD. “Jon is the first living donor to receive this award and an inspiring example of what it means to give the gift of life. With his ongoing outreach to encourage more people to become living kidney donors, Jon Lee truly embodies the spirit of this award.”
"Jon Lee's passionate advocacy for organ donation exemplifies Medical City Healthcare's commitment to the care and improvement of human life," says Medical City Dallas Solid Organ Transplant Director Emilie Burgess, who nominated Lee for the UNOS award. "In 2020, the collaborative transplant programs at Medical City Dallas and Medical City Fort Worth performed 277 solid organ transplants, and Jon's outreach to potential donors can help make kidney transplantation a reality for so many more people in need of this lifesaving gift."
Previous award winners have included organ recipients, donor family members and a social worker. Lee became a living organ donor because his brother-in-law needed a transplant. In 2019, living donors made possible almost 30% of all kidney transplants performed nationwide.
Lee, a 41-year-old husband and father, says that donating his kidney in August of 2019 was such a life-changing and spiritually fulfilling experience that he started the “Us For Them” movement with a mission to eliminate the kidney transplant waitlist. His goal is to “inspire people of faith to prayerfully consider living kidney donation.” His efforts have included developing a website, Us For Them, that provides information, data and facts about living kidney donation, inspirational videos and an opportunity for people to consider becoming a kidney donor. A Facebook page also provides a channel to enable donors and recipients to share their stories. As a result of these efforts, multiple potential donors have now begun the living donor evaluation process.
After Lee decided to give a kidney to his brother-in-law, Jason Smith, Lee found out he was not a compatible match to donate directly. However, Lee was still able to help Smith receive a transplant through a paired kidney exchange coordinated by the transplant programs at Medical City Dallas and Medical City Fort Worth.
A paired kidney exchange works this way: Many patients in need of a kidney have family members or friends willing to donate. But a patient and a potential donor must go through a series of tests, and sometimes a patient has a willing donor who is not an acceptable match. Transplant hospitals and paired kidney donation programs can identify and connect these non-matching pairs of patients and donors so that the recipients end up with an organ that’s a match for them.
Through this kind of “swap,” Lee’s kidney was transplanted into Jill Kolb of Fort Worth at Medical City Fort Worth, and Smith received a kidney from Kolb’s close friend Sara Holloway at Medical City Dallas.